Marfa, Texas

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Marfa, Texas
Presidio County courthouse in Marfa
Presidio County courthouse in Marfa
Location of Marfa in Presidio County, Texas
Location of Marfa in Presidio County, Texas
Marfa, Texas is located in USA
Marfa, Texas
Marfa, Texas
Location in the United States of America
Coordinates: Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Country  United States
State  Texas
County Presidio
 • Mayor Dan Dunlap
 • Total 1.6 sq mi (4.1 km2)
 • Land 1.6 sq mi (4.1 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 4,685 ft (1,428 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 1,981
 • Density 1,354.6/sq mi (523.0/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 79843
Area code 432
FIPS code 48-46620[1]
GNIS feature ID 1340942[2]

Marfa is a city in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos in far West Texas, located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. It is the county seat of Presidio County, and its population as of the 2010 United States Census was 1,981. The city was founded in the early 1880s as a waterstop; the population increased during World War II, but the growth stalled and reversed somewhat during the late 20th century. Today, Marfa is a tourist destination and a major center for Minimalist art. Attractions include Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art installments, art galleries, and the Marfa lights.


Marfa was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop. The town was named "Marfa" at the suggestion of the wife of a railroad executive. Although some historians have hypothesized that the name came from a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky novel The Brothers Karamazov,[3] etymologist Barry Popik found that Marfa was actually named after Marfa Strogoff, a character in the Jules Verne novel Michael Strogoff.[4][5] The town grew quickly during the 1920s.

The Marfa Army Airfield served as a training facility for several thousand pilots during World War II, including the American actor Robert Sterling, before closing in 1945. The base was also used as the training ground for many of the United States Army's chemical mortar battalions.


Marfa is located at Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. (30.311863, −104.024779).[6] According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 1.6 sq mi (4.1 km2), all land. The city is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, a minimally developed region of about 140,000 square miles (about 362,600 km2).


Historical population
Census Pop.
1920 3,553
1930 3,909 10.0%
1940 3,805 −2.7%
1950 3,603 −5.3%
1960 2,799 −22.3%
1970 2,647 −5.4%
1980 2,466 −6.8%
1990 2,424 −1.7%
2000 2,121 −12.5%
2010 1,981 −6.6%
Est. 2014 1,765 [7] −10.9%
U.S. Decennial Census[8]

As of the 2010 United States Census, 1,981 people, 864 households, and 555 families resided in the city.[1] The population density was 1,354.6 people per square mile (521.6/km²). There were 1,126 housing units at an average density of 719.1 per square mile (276.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 91% White, 0.28% African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.05% Asian, 7.50% from other races, and 0.75% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 69.9% of the population. Of 863 households, 29.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 13.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.6% were not families. About 31.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.99. In terms of age, the age distribution of the population shows 24.9% under the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 24.2% from 25 to 44, 24.5% from 45 to 64, and 18.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.9 males. The median income for a household in the city was $24,712, and for a family was $32,328. Males had a median income of $25,804 versus $18,382 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,636. About 15.7% of families and 20.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.6% of those under age 18 and 26.9% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and cultural life

The area around Marfa is known as a cultural center for contemporary artists and artisans. In 1971, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City. After renting summer houses for a couple of years, he bought two large hangars and some smaller buildings and began to permanently install his art. While this started with his building in New York, the buildings in Marfa allowed him to install his works on a larger scale. In 1976, he bought the first of two ranches that would become his primary places of residence, continuing a long love affair with the desert landscape surrounding Marfa. Later, with assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, Judd acquired decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell, and began transforming the fort's buildings into art spaces in 1979. Judd's vision was to house large collections of individual artists' work on permanent display, as a sort of anti-museum. Judd believed the prevailing model of a museum, where art is shown for short periods of time, does not allow the viewer an understanding of the artist or their work as they intended.

Since Judd's death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy: the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation. Every year the Chinati Foundation holds an open house event where artists, collectors, and enthusiasts come from around the world to visit Marfa's art. Since 1997, Open House has been co-sponsored by both foundations and attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. In 2008, the Chinati Foundation changed the format of the Open House weekend, eliminating various events. This significantly reduced the number of visitors. The Chinati Foundation now occupies more than 10 buildings at the site and has on permanent exhibit work by artists such as Ingólfur Arnarson, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg.

In recent years, a new wave of artists has moved to Marfa to live and work. As a result, new gallery spaces have opened in the downtown area. The Crowley Fountation theater and its theater annex host public events with seating for over 175 as a public service to nonprofit foundations. Furthermore, The Lannan Foundation has established a writers-in-residency program, a Marfa theater group has formed, and a multifunctional art space called Ballroom Marfa has begun to show art films, host musical performances, and exhibit other art installations. The city is also 37 miles (60 km) from Prada Marfa, a pop art exhibit, and is home to Cobra Rock Boot Company and The Wrong Store.

Building 98, also located in Marfa, is a project of the International Woman's Foundation, which has operated an artist-in-residency program since 2002. The International Woman's Foundation was responsible for placing Fort D.A. Russell on the National Register of Historic Places as an effort to preserve the historic importance of the site.[9] The facility's studio galleries host artists who desire to exhibit work in the region at a premier venue. In late September 2012 through early April 2013, the foundation held a major retrospective of the works of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong at Building 98 featuring over 75 unseen works of the early American woman modernist. Building 98 is located at historic Fort D. A. Russell; it is the home of Marfa's German POW murals.[10][11] The facility also features the George Sugarman sculpture courtyard.[9]


Various movie productions have filmed in and around parts of Marfa. The 1950 film, High Lonesome, starring Chill Wills and John Drew Barrymore was filmed in Marfa.The 1956 Warner Bros. film Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Sal Mineo, Carroll Baker, and Dennis Hopper, was filmed in Marfa for two months. Director George Stevens actively encouraged the townspeople to visit the set, either to watch the shooting, visit with the cast and crew, or take part as extras, dialect coaches, bit players, and stagehands.

The wedding scene from Kevin Reynolds's 1984 feature directorial debut, Fandango, takes place and is filmed in Marfa.

In August 2006, two movie production units filmed in Marfa: There Will Be Blood, an adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and the Coen Brothers' adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Men.[12][13]

Larry Clark's 2012 film Marfa Girl was filmed exclusively in Marfa.[14] Also, Far Marfa, written and directed by Cory Van Dyke, made its debut in 2012.[15] Additionally, various musical artists have filmed music videos in the town, including Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Between the Buried and Me, and Diamond Rings. In 2008, Marfa held the first annual Marfa Film Festival, which lasted from May 1–5.

Marfa lights

Outside of Donald Judd and modern art, Marfa may be most famous for the Marfa lights, visible on clear nights between Marfa and the Paisano Pass when one is facing southwest (toward the Chinati Mountains). According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "... at times they appear colored as they twinkle in the distance. They move about, split apart, melt together, disappear, and reappear. Presidio County residents have watched the lights for over a hundred years. The first historical record of them dates to 1883.[16] Presidio County has built a viewing station nine miles east of town on US 67 near the site of the old air base. Each year, enthusiasts gather for the annual Marfa Lights Festival. The lights have been featured and mentioned in various media, including the television show Unsolved Mysteries and an episode of King of the Hill ("Of Mice and Little Green Men") and in an episode of Disney Channel Original Series So Weird. A book by David Morrell, 2009's The Shimmer, was inspired by the lights. The Rolling Stones mention the "lights of Marfa" in the song "No Spare Parts" from the 2011 re-release of their 1978 album Some Girls.


Marfa is home to NPR-affiliated station KRTS. Marfa houses the offices of the Big Bend Sentinel, a weekly newspaper covering the areas of Marfa, Fort Davis, Presidio, and far West Texas. Marfa Magazine is a yearly publication distributed from Marfa, founded and operated by Johnny Calderon, Jr. It focuses on current issues and general information about Marfa, Alpine, and Fort Davis.


Marfa is served by the Marfa Independent School District. Marfa Elementary School and Marfa Junior/Senior High School, a part of the district, serve the city. Marfa International School, a private school, opened its doors in 2012, serving students grades 1-8 with scholarships available based on need.

As of October 1, 2009, the city no longer has a local police department. The Presidio County Sheriff's Department and Texas Highway Patrol provide law enforcement for the city, as well as the county as a whole.

Presidio County also operates the Marfa Municipal Airport, located north of the city in unincorporated Presidio County. Commercial air service is available at either Midland International Airport, 180 mi (290 km) northeast, or El Paso International Airport, 190 mi (310 km) northwest. Greyhound Lines operates an intercity bus service from the Western Union office.[17] Amtrak's Sunset Limited, which operates between New Orleans and Los Angeles three days a week, passes through the city, but does not stop; the nearest station is located in Alpine, 26 mi (42 km) northeast.

Marfa and the surrounding area are served by the Marfa Public Library, which houses a diverse collection in a variety of formats. The library began in 1947 when the Marfa Lions Club and the Marfa Study Club agreed to establish a library for the citizens of the area.[18] The library was originally housed in the historic U.S.O. building, but was moved to a city owned building after the City took over the project. After meeting the requirements of the Texas State Library, it became a member of the Texas Trans-Pecos Library System.[18] The present library building was donated to the City of Marfa in 1973 by the first chairperson, Laura Bailey, and her husband Bishop.[18] Future expansions and renovations to the current building are also planned.


Marfa experiences a semiarid climate with hot summers and cool winters. Due to its altitude and aridity, the diurnal temperature variation is substantial.

Climate data for Marfa, Texas. (Elevation 4,780ft)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 81
Average high °F (°C) 60.2
Average low °F (°C) 25.7
Record low °F (°C) −2
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.42
Average snowfall inches (cm) 0.7
Source: The Western Regional Climate Center[19]


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  11. The Biography of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong: The Treasured Collection of Golden Heart Farm by Clint B. Weber, ISBN 978-0-9851601-0-4
  12. Whitney Joiner, "Postcard: Marfa. A far-flung Texas town stars in two of this year's Oscar-nominated films. Yet a proposed truck route could end its precious seclusion. The battle to stay off the beaten path", TIME 171.8 (February 25, 2008): 6.
  13. Marfa (pop 2,400), the desert town that will be the star of the OscarsDaily Telegraph article by Catherine Elsworth in Issue 47,499 dated 21 February 2008
  14. "Five Questions with Marfa Girl Director Larry Clark". Filmmaker Magazine. 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-11-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Marfa lights." Handbook of Texas.
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External links